Topics: Migration inflation; States GST distribution; Chinese Foreign Minister visit to Australia;

10:20AM AEDT
15 March 2024



Laura Jayes:  Let’s go down to the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. I want to talk about this historic visit next week. But I also want to ask you about immigration and the housing crisis. I mean, we’ve just seen the numbers for last month. We look at the rental vacancy rates. It is a dire situation here. What should be done immediately in your view?


Simon Birmingham: Well, LJ, thanks for the opportunity. You know, migration is incredibly important to Australia, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. Particularly skilled migration has been and continues to be critical in terms of the mix of skills that our industry and employers need of filling labour shortages where they occur. And of course, ensuring that in terms of the age mix of Australians, we maintain a tax contributing, productive workers in our economy who pay the taxes and contribute then to the services that those of older ages and younger ages access but are unable to contribute to. So, it’s really important, therefore, that the social licence underpinning migration is also maintained and data like this, and the way in which this government has handled the migration tale to date, really undermines that social compact and undermines the social licence that there is for us to have the type of continued successful migration program that Australia needs because Australians are seeing the rental crisis, they are seeing housing affordability pressures, they are seeing real pressures in terms of infrastructure. So, the government needs to look very carefully, particularly at types of temporary migration that aren’t delivering the essential skills that we need, but may well be in areas that are questioned-


Laura Jayes: When you say temporary. I mean, what would cut there though? Because we’ve got students that often become permanent migrants. You’ve got tourists. We want to keep them. So, what other cohort is there?


Simon Birmingham: So, I think if you look in the student category in particular, there are questions that are asked about whether all of the student cohort are actually meeting the type of standards and engagement with learning and attending courses in institutions, with the type of standards and outcomes that we would all expect for this to be a valid undertaking-


Laura Jayes: Does that matter in a sense here? As you know, we’ve spoken about this in the past. When you were the education minister and the trade, were you trade? Education?


Simon Birmingham: Yes, I did both.


Laura Jayes: You did? So, I thought so.


Simon Birmingham: Yes. I fully appreciate international education.


Laura Jayes: And how much we rely on that for our economic growth too.


Simon Birmingham: International education is a big value add and contributor. But equally, when I was education minister, I made sure that we clamped down, particularly in the vocational education sector, on a lot of dubious providers who were taking Australians for a ride, but also were targeting international so-called students, but who were frankly turning up using that as a pathway into Australia, not actually as a skills outcome as was being presented by those providers. There’s a need for constant effort in those spaces to ensure that there is integrity in that international education market, delivering what it is intended to. That’s not just important for population pressures in Australia. It’s also important for the long-term reputation of that sector. That our universities and trade providers doing the right thing, cannot have their reputations tarnished by those who are simply trying to sell a back door pathway to migration, rather than a high-quality education outcome that can be transferred back in many instances to the origin countries of those individuals and provide productive benefits to them as well.


Laura Jayes: What about this GST rip off? I mean, this was a deal done under the Turnbull government. It’s been carried over by the Albanese Government. Why should WA be getting an extra $6 billion from all the other states when it is in the middle of a mining boom and has been for the better part of a decade, if not longer? I mean, a couple of economists, respected ones, ones that, you know, say this is a terrible deal for all of the states, should it be torn up?


Simon Birmingham: No, it shouldn’t LJ. I think there’s a balance to be struck here and the deal that was engaged in did try to strike that balance. That is that we want to ensure across Australia everybody has access to a reasonable equivalent of essential services. So, for decades and decades now, essentially throughout all of your lifetime and pretty much all of mine as well, we have had a situation where it’s been agreed that smaller states and territories, areas that don’t have the same strength of revenue, do receive higher payments. But you’ve got to balance that against what is fair and reasonable too. The floor put in place for WA to ensure that around-


Laura Jayes: Per capita basis, though, as Chris Minns suggested?


Simon Birmingham: No, because that would completely abandon the idea of trying to achieve equivalence of service and outcomes across Australia and is a crude measure that doesn’t take into account that need for equivalence. But in the case of the West, it’s not unreasonable to also say there’s a floor about making sure you do get a reasonable amount back of what you pay, and $0.70 in the dollar is not an unreasonable floor to have in place. So, I think we got the balance there. Right. Of course, it is contentious between the states, as Paul Keating used to say, never stand between a state leader and a bucket of money. They will all always seek whatever dollars they can extract from Commonwealth tax revenues. But to get that balance right, to say, well, we want to make sure that nobody is unduly ripped off in terms of money taken from their state and directed elsewhere. So having a floor makes sense. But we also need to maintain that principle of having equivalence of service outcomes. So, having a degree of redistribution is essential for that too.


Laura Jayes: All right. Let’s quickly talk Wang Yi because this is Penny Wong’s Chinese counterpart. He’ll be in Australia next week. We’ve already had a big breakthrough on wine tariffs. What else should and can be achieved next week in your view?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I welcome this this visit, the resumption of dialogue has been important, and it was always counterproductive of China to cease dialogue the way that they did. If we are to see the wine tariffs removed, I hope it happens quickly and as quickly as possible. That hasn’t been confirmed yet. So, confirming that, as well as getting progress for our beef industry, for our live seafood industry, for others who continue to face the unfair and unjustified imposition of trade sanctions by China, the removal of these sanctions is not something to be thankful for. They should never have been put in place in the first place, and we should be very clear that it is really only because of the trade disputes that were launched and draft findings in the case of barley, and in the case of wine provided to China. That clearly means they want to avoid international embarrassment. We should be clear there is no justification for anything other than full adherence to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Australia adheres to it. China should adhere to it. That would see all of these barriers removed. Continuing to advocate for Doctor Yang Hengjun and his wellbeing is crucial, particularly given the health concerns and the need to try to get a compassionate outcome in his case as well as, of course, the really critical aspects of regional stability and security, and urging China to cease some of the provocative types of actions that we see in the South China Sea against the Philippines, but also the heightened military conduct that has occurred, be it in Japanese waters, Taiwanese waters or elsewhere.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.